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The effects of a partitioned var gene repertoire of Plasmodium falciparum on antigenic diversity and the acquisition of clinical immunity.

Abstract

This study presents a mathematical analysis of how recombination hierarchies affect diversity, and, by using simple stochastic simulations, investigates how intra- and inter-genic diversity influence the rate at which individuals acquire clinical immunity.

The analysis demonstrates that the partitioning of the var gene repertoire has a limiting effect on the total diversity attainable through recombination and that the limiting effect is strongly influenced by the respective sizes of each of the partitions. Furthermore, by associating expression of one of the groups with severe malaria it is demonstrated how a small number of infections can be sufficient to protect against disease despite a seemingly limitless number of possible non-identical repertoires.

Recombination hierarchies within the var gene repertoire of P. falciparum have a severe effect on strain diversity and the process of acquiring immunity against clinical malaria. Future studies will show how the existence of these recombining groups can offer an evolutionary advantage in spite of their restriction on diversity.

The human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum exploits antigenic diversity and within-host antigenic variation to evade the host's immune system. Of particular importance are the highly polymorphic var genes that encode the family of cell surface antigens PfEMP1 (Plasmodium falciparum Erythrocyte Membrane Protein 1). It has recently been shown that in spite of their extreme diversity, however, these genes fall into distinct groups according to chromosomal location or sequence similarity, and that recombination may be confined within these groups.

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